When I say “first birth” I mean excluding mine.
This morning, I had Plans. With a capital P. My birth-photographer-turned-friend-turned-photography-mentor Sarah had a mama scheduled for a c-section, providing the baby remained breech, and I was invited. I wouldn’t get to see the actual birth, of course—Sarah had never even been in this hospital’s OR. The parents had a pretty solid arrangement for her to be inside for the birth, but my plan was to gain experience pre- and post-op, catching details of the waiting and the triumphant exodus from the ER. I was pretty stoked. It was generous of Sarah to offer to let me tag along, generous of the mama to invite me. I was just happy I’d get to be there.
But instead, I’m in Starbucks like I am every Wednesday morning, getting some words out before I need to be someplace at eight.
Toward the end of last week, I got up early for an appointment. I didn’t really want to leave my warm bed for my cold room, so I grabbed my phone (duh) and checked for notifications… I had a text from Sarah from ten minutes ago. “Good morning… [the mama’s] water broke, so she’s getting ready to head into the OR (she said in about an hour or so—we’ll see if I can make it) SO. No pressure.” Well, that will get me out of bed…
I threw myself together, almost forgot my camera (battery at a whopping 40%), flew out the door. I called to excuse myself from PT saying, “A client went into birth” (what?!?) and forgot where the entrance to post was, driving the long way around town to get to the main gate for the pass I was already planning to get that day “in case” she ended up going into labor early.
Sarah and I ended up at the Visitor’s Center for passes at the same time (she also had “get weeklong pass” penciled on her to-do list that morning), so I just followed her to the hospital, not trusting myself to BS my way to the right place. Look at me with my Very Legit Camera. I definitely know what I’m doing. Please tell me where the laboring mama is getting prepped for surgery. OF COURSE I know her last name—my friend texted it to me this morning. She’s going “into birth.” Eye roll. But Sarah’s getting close 70 births, so she knows her way around and isn’t flustered by any of it and I was glad we arrived at the same time.
We hung out in the mama’s hospital room with her husband, parents, and parts of her birth team. I shot a few pictures while trying to stay out of the way and wrap my head around this is really happening. Someone came in and passed out paper coveralls and masks and hairnets and booties for those who would be in the OR. Sarah and the grandma-to-be suited up, and we were on our way. I followed everyone through the labyrinth toward the operating room. Sarah, Grandma, and I waited outside, they in their bunny suits and me in my street clothes, while Mama was in getting an epidural and otherwise being prepped.
A number of staff walked by, saw two bunny suits and me, and verified: yes, these two are going into the OR. Yes, I am staying in the hall. But then the OB came to me, grabbed a suit and mask off the cart, and handed it to me. I started to stammer out something about me not going in and she looked in my shocked, enormous eyes and said, “Yes, really.” I didn’t fight it.
And that is the story of how I ended up in a very crowded OR shooting my first birth, which happened to be a twin cesarean.
Oh, I didn’t mention there were two? There were two.
I spent the whole time grinning stupidly and exchanging “is this for real?!?” looks with Sarah and shooting furiously and muttering incoherent half-prayers from behind the mask I put on upside-down. “Jesus, what?!? I can’t even… how is this… THANK YOU!!!”
I’m glad I watched a few c-sections on YouTube (you can find all kinds of stuff on YouTube) so I went in knowing I was unlikely to pass out. The only part that made me a little squirmy was actually the same thing that makes me nervous about non-surgical birth—the tiny slit they cut stretched to an alarming size to accommodate the removal of actual humans.
All in all, incredible. I got closer to crying that morning than I did at any of my own births, honestly. I don’t even really have any more words for it. I’m still a bit buzzed from the oxytocin, days and days later.
It feels like generosity and grace were rained down like so much candy at a parade, and all I could do was gather it up and shove it in my pockets until it was spilling out.
I’ve had to check myself constantly to avoid verbally assaulting every stranger I meet: I got to shoot a twin c-section from inside the OR! In other words, Here! Have some candy! I can’t even hold it all, let me throw some at you! But that’s hardly appropriate, so I’ve tried to keep it tamped down, limited to people who I know actually like this kind of candy.
But now I’m tossing it at you, because I’m still just brimming with it.
This kind of grace only comes from one Place. Would He still be good if I didn’t get into the OR? Obviously. And I was excited about that. But the confluence of factors that morning made it really obvious: this was a gift, like the kind I occasionally get to surprise my children with: the kind I never imagined to ask for.
That’s all my words. Have a few of my favorite images from that morning. That I took myself.